Editors' Note: Guest blogger Diana O'Brien is a transgender advocate, writer and licensed esthetician & electrologist in Wilton Manors, FL. She current writes a guest column for the South Florida Gay News.
Today I am celebrating a personal achievement and milestone! There are dinner plans and maybe a cocktail waiting for me in a few hours. Certainly there will be good company - a fellow traveler who rode the train I'm now on, but who took her journey years before me. I am celebrating the affirmation of my identity.
I took my identity for granted. It was assigned to me at birth. "Congratulations, it's a boy! What is his name?" the obstetrician asked. The nurse wrote it on the birth certificate. Name: Michael Shane O'Brien. Sex: Male. That's all there was to it. The recovery room was filled with the sweet smell of roses. My name was chosen for me with love, by a young mother that used to read Michael Shayne Detective stories when she was just a girl. My sex was assigned to me based on - well, you get the picture.
The truth was, however, mom was not the only girl in the room that day. That was not all there was to it. When I finally came to understand for myself that my birth assigned name and sex did not match my gender identity, I chose a new name. Diana. It was the alter-ego name of Linda Carter's Wonder Woman, the visage of feminine beauty and strength that I had adored since childhood. The name felt right, sounded right on my own lips, and on the lips of others. Eventually I decided I wanted to make it legal.
Having the wrong name and gender marker can be much more than a hassle. It is a source of constant inner pain.
It causes problems with every government agency you have to deal with. It makes your most personal information a necessary subject to talk about with every business that you patronize or seek employment from. It is a barrier to receiving healthcare in many instances. It can even be dangerous. Correcting this is one of the great accomplishments of many transgender people's lives.
As it turns out, there are all kinds hoops to jump through to have one's name changed and sex reassigned (which are two different things with two different processes). Hours of research go into understanding the legal processes and clinical requirements; then there are the many doctor visits, the paperwork, the fees, the court hearing, and so much more. The light at the end of the tunnel is dim and far away at first, but gets brighter and closer with each step accomplished.
Recently, I sat solemnly, listening to the names of other transgender women and men. They were read aloud and publicly, in memory of the lives that were violently taken from us this year. Two hundred sixty five transgender people's murders were reported in the twelve months prior to the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20. Each year it breaks my heart, but being right in the middle of the process of owning my real identity made it so much more poignant.
So many people pay a much higher price to be their authentic self than I have. It is a human right to do so. It is also a privilege to live in a country where it is possible, though only with great effort, resolve and patience. As I approach the end of the tunnel (but far from the end of the trip), I am mindful of how so few are able to complete the trip or even get on the train.
So what then is in a name, as William Shakespeare asked? My life wouldn't smell as sweet if I could not be Diana. I've changed my name to one that speaks to who I really am - beautiful and strong like my heroine. I've changed my sex to the one that speaks to what I really am - a woman as real as any birth-assigned female. In spite of all the resistance, all the difficulty, all the expense, and all the manure that's been thrown on this bed of roses, life has never been sweeter.